Ashley Connell, CEO and Founder, Prowess Project, facilitates “Men Tell All” where male allies … [+]
Finding the best talent for any role is a serious undertaking–and part-time, contracted positions are no exception. But the options for a short-term resource to pick up what’s falling on the floor rarely get the attention it deserves. Ashley Connell, CEO and Founder of Prowess Project, is disrupting that paradigm with a mission-driven, for-profit start-up that matches company needs to a project manager based on skill set, personality compatibility and availability.
Vetting and certifying women looking to re-enter the working world after a career break and matching them with social impact companies in need of fractional talent.
“Prowess Project helps companies with resource needs by matching them with educated, experienced women, many of whom are stay-at-home moms wanting to get back into the workforce but unable to find the flexible, empowering jobs they are looking for. Prowess Project uses a unique algorithm to pair talent with companies who need their expertise,” says Connell.
Serving clients ranging from solopreneur to Fortune 500, Connell’s matchmaking focus is strategic. The social impact market typically consists of non-profit and small businesses, where resource allocation is tight. On the talent side is an untapped pool of women who have taken a break from their career and are looking for a way to onramp. In most cases, this means moms, but Prowess Project attracts women of all ages and stages of their career.
Harvard Business Review reports that, across sectors, women lose 37% of their earning power when they spend three or more years out of the workforce. Among women who have children, that statistic rises to 43%.
“Ghosting is a real phenomenon for women trying to step back into the job force,” says Connell. “Combined with constant rejection, women lose confidence. Our goal is to either refresh or train them on key technology, understand their unique skills and ways of working and pair them with a client who will best benefit from what they bring to the table.”
Incubated and Accelerated
Connell, a second-time entrepreneur with more than 12 years of B2B tech marketing experience, realized the potential of her business model after identifying two problems in the workforce: teams were bogged down by project management tasks; and, educated, experienced women who had paused their careers couldn’t find flexible, empowering opportunities.
In the fall of 2018, Connell joined the Founders Institute, an entrepreneurial accelerator, which helped her incubate the concept. Prowess Project resulted, and she launched her Company in February 2019. Afterward, Connell spent five months working with the Austin Impact Accelerator. It was in there she was connected to her first investor.
Only ten months out of the gate and Prowess Project is averaging a 44% month-over-month increase in revenue. In this case study, Connell demonstrates the power of a perfect talent match in terms of money and time saved by the client and its actual impact on business.
Why The Prowess Project Model Works
Connell says much of the success behind pairing Prowess Project’s virtual workforce with clients is due, in part, to seamless onboarding–the result of an algorithm producing talent matches. “What the client gets is a customized report offering three talent options, complete with compatibility scores, quantified and weighted in terms of need,” says Connell.
Applicants wanting to work for Prowess Project must pay to participate in a 16-hour training and certification program that evaluates emotional intelligence, personality preferences and ensures understanding of the latest technology tools. Once certified, the algorithm matches client needs with talent.
When working with both the client and talent, Prowess Project focuses on data collection around behavior, learning and communication preferences, which relate to emotional intelligence.
“Because we do so much preparation of our talent pool before, during and after the certification program, as well as determining the scope of client needs during our discovery calls, what we’re hearing is that onboarding is so much faster,” says Connell. “Clients repeatedly tell me that our talent integrates seamlessly as a natural part of the existing team.”
Leah Steinkirsch, chief development officer, Prowess Project, explains their model offers a more holistic representation of talent, which significantly increases success on both sides.
When we explain to clients the extent we go to look holistically at the women in our talent pool, to dig into the soft skills not often revealed in a resume, that’s when we really get their attention. In traditional hiring, this level of understanding is not being represented and not typically revealed until after someone is on a team. We understand how crucial it is to onboarding and overall team success, and we’ve validated this repeatedly in our successes.
Valarie Pinette lives in Vermont with her husband and two school-aged children. After 16 years in the telecommunications industry in demanding roles that kept her exhausted and always on the road, Pinette was ready for a change.
Valerie Pinette lives in Vermont and works for Prowess Project clients in operations and HR roles.
“I knew I wanted something different,” says Pinette, who began freelancing as an operations and HR consultant seven years ago. Since finding Prowess Project in March, she’s never felt happier.
“It’s difficult being a freelancer–you’re always on the hustle, always networking, looking for pain points and identifying your next project. Then there’s the negotiation where I often felt undercut in terms of salary versus the services I provided,” she says. “I went through a couple of years where I questioned my decision about leaving the industry, but I’m now convinced I did the right thing.”
Pinette empathizes with women who struggle to manage career and family needs, especially if they’ve taken time away from their work to be home. “The struggle for women who have left careers is real,” she says. “In my case, I was actively working in the marketplace, had 20 years of experience and an MBA. Plus, I’m a mom, so if you give me seven tasks, I’m going to complete 15 because I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow.”
Pinette explains that in spite of all she brought to the table, prospective clients saw a freelancer working a part-time project instead of the full set of transferable skills she offered. Teaming up with Prowess Project leveled the playing field.
“Looking at the market, I knew it was the perfect time to launch Prowess Project,” says Connell. “Companies are adopting distributed workforces and increasing remote work and virtual meetings. Team leaders need to free up brain space to think strategically, our moms need the flexibility to work from home on their schedule, and Prowess Project facilitates all of this.”
Prowess Project is discerning when it comes to both clientele and talent. Clients must understand that women, in particular, are highly likely to offramp and come back in. They must realize that a career gap does not equal a loss of skills or potential, and that the mathematical pairing between behavior, learning and communications styles can make a significant difference in success.
On the other hand, talent must have a college education and at least five years of experience, in addition to paying to complete the 16-hour training and certification program. Some scholarships, sponsorships and pay-to-work opportunities are available for those who qualify.
“Now I’m working with clients who get it,” says Pinette. “My clients see the value I add to their business and they respect my values. I’m in control of my time and that’s a powerful feeling.”